Like other professional classes -- lawyers and scientists come immediately to mind -- the military officer corps is seen by the White House as a threat to its own Executive Branch hegemony.
That's the key to understanding today's resignation by Adm. William Fallon, the commander in chief of Central Command.
The resignation of a CINC is a big deal, under almost any circumstance. But considering the Bush Administration's seven-year effort to put the Pentagon under its thumb, the resignation of a commander like Fallon, who by most accounts was willing to exercise his independent military judgment, is another setback for the professional officer corps as an institution.
Make no mistake. None of the Bush Administration's efforts in this regard has been about re-asserting civilian control over the military in some constitutional sense. The effort has been focused on degrading the autonomy, independence, and institutional authority of the Pentagon in order to further the narrow ideological and partisan aims of this particular White House.
Fallon was considered by many to be the one man standing between Dick Cheney and bombing Iran. So in the short term, Fallon's resignation raises concerns about our future policy towards Iran (and as Spencer Ackerman notes
, those concerns are likely to be greatest in Iran itself). So much for the return to mainstream foreign policy that was going to be led by Bob Gates and Condi Rice.
In the long-term, Fallon's resignation -- in some ways forced, perhaps in other ways dictated by circumstance -- does much of the same damage to the Pentagon as has already been done to the Justice Department and the supposedly independent regulatory agencies. Defense Secretary Gates was supposed to be a bulwark against the White House's ongoing efforts to erode the Pentagon. But Fallon was apparently too independent. The White House wanted someone, as Esquire
said, more pliable. Another Tommy Franks. And we all remember where that led.